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Elon Musk with the Falcon 9  (Source:
SpaceX founder Elon Musk hopes to send humans to Mars in 10 to 15 years

California-based space transport company SpaceX is looking to build a fully reusable orbital launch system that could make spaceflight more affordable, and eventually send people to Mars for permanent settlement.

Elon Musk, founder of SpaceX, has mapped out a way for the Falcon 9 rocket to deliver a Dragon spacecraft to orbit, then return to the launch site by touching down vertically under rocket power on landing gear. At the same time, the Dragon would make a supplies delivery to the International Space Station and return from orbit to make its own landing.

Achieving a reusable space transport has been difficult because of the engineering challenges associated with such a feat, but many have tried because a totally reusable rocket would cut the cost of spaceflight. Traditional rockets can only be used once, and a Falcon 9, for example, can cost about $50 million to $60 million.

Over the past year, Musk and his team at SpaceX managed to solve the complexities that have stumped many before and even made an animation of how the plan could work, which is a 90 percent accurate depiction. They now hope to make the reusable rocket system a reality.

"Now, we could fail -- I'm not saying we are certain of success here -- but we are to try to do it," said Musk. "And we have a design that on paper -- doing the calculations, doing the simulations -- it does work. Now, we need to make sure that those simulations and reality agree, because generally when they don't, reality wins."

According to Musk, a Falcon 9 can cost about $50 million to $60 million, but fuel and oxygen for one launch only costs $200,000. So if the rocket can be reused, he said, around 1,000 times, the capital cost of the rocket per launch would only be approximately $50,000.

"If it does work, it'll be pretty huge," said Musk.

As far as long-term goals go, Musk sees the reusable rockets carrying settlers to Mars in an effort to "make humanity a multiplanetary species" in the event that something disasterous should happen on Earth.

Musk went on to suggest that spending a quarter of a percent of an annual gross domestic product of $14 trillion (which would be $35 billion annually) on space development and a focus on Mars-related missions. This sort of budget could drop the cost of Mars travel to $500,000 per person, he said.

According to Musk, sending humans to Mars could take as much as 10 to 15 years, and estimates that if the human population is at 8 billion at that time, that a minimum of 8,000 people could afford to travel to Mars.

Before launching humans into space, SpaceX capsules must first meet the safety standards that the now-retired NASA Space Shuttle program had to meet. This includes a launch escape system, which SpaceX capsules currently do not have, but reportedly will in about two or three years.

Sources: MSNBC,

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re-use a thousand times?
By docawolff on 9/30/2011 3:02:41 PM , Rating: 2
Wow. I would be really impressed if they could engineer a rocket that could be simply re-fueled and re-launched a thousand times. Even with exhaustive maintenance I suspect the practical limit on a rocket's frame is less than 100 flights.

Furthermore, a lifetime of 1000 flights would imply a failure rate of less than 0.1%. Bear in mind that a chemical rocket is basically a very slow and (hopefully!) well-controlled explosion. A failure rate of less than 0.1% seems... optimistic.

RE: re-use a thousand times?
By JediJeb on 9/30/2011 3:56:22 PM , Rating: 1
Same can be said about an internal combustion engine or an air plane. Both of those have been improved over the decades to last much longer than the originals would have.

How many times were the shuttle SRBs reused over the years? Or in fact the main engines of the shuttles? As long as the frame is engineered for well beyond the stress a launch puts on it, then it should last quite a while. The engines themselves would need to be maintained just as any other engines with the wear parts replaced on a regular basis but that should still be cheaper than building an entire rocket system and dumping it in the ocean or burning it up in the atmosphere each time.

RE: re-use a thousand times?
By docawolff on 9/30/2011 5:17:13 PM , Rating: 3
Your points are well-taken and I agree that the automobile or the airplane have been continuously improved to become extremely reliable.

However, to take your example of the automobile, if the engine quit on an early auto, or a tire went flat, that did not usually mean loss of the vehicle. A rocket is a little different, and the consequence of engine failure is usually loss of the vehicle.

As to the re-use of the SRB--would you believe six or seven times? see: Even sixty or seventy times would be a far cry from 1,000.

I suspect that we are basically discussing two sides of the same issue. I agree that eventually we will probably see a spacecraft that can go a thousand flights without essentially rebuilding it over the course of those thousand flights. At the same time, right now, even if you just count the US space shuttle flights (135) there were two failures (1.5% failure rate). We have a way to go on the engineering.

RE: re-use a thousand times?
By Ringold on 9/30/2011 9:49:13 PM , Rating: 2
The STS may have had a 1.5% failure rate, but we also learned a good bit from both failures, both technically and in people management. NASA also touts the shuttles as the most complicated vessels ever built by man, which sounds impressive but would also be a breeding ground for problems.

SpaceX has a ton of advantages, including relative simplicity, and decades worth of technical advancement and no public-sector constraints.

RE: re-use a thousand times?
By mmatis on 9/30/2011 6:37:12 PM , Rating: 1
I hate to tell you this, but they ARE "dumping it in the ocean" each launch. It DOES parachute in, like the Shuttle's SRBs did, but instead of a solid rocket motor, this is a liquid booster with the various and sundry components required for it to work. Yes, the engine will have cooled by the time it impacts the water, but the orifices in the combustion chamber are not salt-water friendly. Same for the wiring and other electronic components on the engine. Have you LOOKED at a large liquid rocket engine lately? Looky-loos routinely derided the SRBs as non-reusable due to the amount of rework required before they could be reused. Yet solid boosters are FAR less complex than liquid.

But then this does give the politicians another way to spend tax dollars. Which I suppose is the MOST important criteria these days.

RE: re-use a thousand times?
By Jedi2155 on 9/30/2011 7:39:55 PM , Rating: 2
If you actually read the article or looked it up, they are not "dumping it in the ocean." The goal of the resuable SpaceX rockets is to literally reland the boosters with existing fuel.

Just watch the video.

RE: re-use a thousand times?
By mmatis on 10/1/2011 9:57:10 AM , Rating: 2
Nice "goal", but they are CURRENTLY dumping it in the ocean. And computer graphics can sure do wonders. Let me know when they have the first working version of their flyback booster. And let me know how they got it through Range Safety. THAT should be a very interesting series of meetings...

The laws of physics tend to get in the way of these fine ideas. And no, the "faster than light" finding won't change THESE laws.

RE: re-use a thousand times?
By MattCoz on 10/2/2011 7:40:11 PM , Rating: 2
Seriously, read the article, everyone understands that this is a "goal" and not an existing and working design. They aren't "CURRENTLY" dumping it anywhere, because it doesn't exist yet.

RE: re-use a thousand times?
By mmatis on 10/3/2011 12:23:37 PM , Rating: 2
So you're trying to say that Falcon 9 is not currently launching?

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